Saturday, June 1, 2013

Jury Service at Orleans Parish Criminal Court: Things to Know

Recently I had my first experience of jury service. This was in Orleans Parish Criminal Court. My schedule required me to show up for four days in a row and to wait in the jury pool until called. On Day 1, I was called for a voir dire but was not chosen for the jury. (During a voir dire, the judge and attorneys explain the case that will be tried and question the potential jurors to see which jurors would be the best ones for this particular trial.) On Days 2, 3, and 4, I simply waited in the jury pool and was dismissed about mid-day. On Day 2, I ran into a colleague who had the same schedule as mine, so we passed the waiting time pleasantly by chatting.

This post will list some things to know about jury service in Orleans Parish Criminal Court. Since I was not chosen for a trial, my experience and information are limited to waiting in the jury pool and attending a voir dire. My next post will reflect more deeply on jury service itself.

INITIAL SUMMONS. I received an initial summons to appear in the jury room to receive my jury schedule. Since I teach and would have been scheduled for the middle of the academic semester, I requested a postponement. This was easily granted. I did have to show up very briefly on the scheduling day, but this could be accomplished during lunch time. I appreciated the friendly and accommodating nature of the staff in providing me with a less disruptive time for jury service.

SCHEDULE. Orleans Parish Criminal Court requires four days of jury service, usually twice a week (Monday & Wednesday or Tuesday & Thursday) for two weeks, but there is also the option (which I was given) to serve all four days in one week. Of course, if one is chosen as a juror for a trial (I wasn't), one may have to serve longer, depending on the length of the trial. In addition, one has to serve all four days. For example, if one is chosen on Monday for a trial that lasts through Wednesday, one will have completed three days of jury service and must still appear for the fourth day to wait in the jury pool.

PARKING. I received a juror parking permit in the mail to hang on my rear view mirror so that I could park for free in one of the nearby parking lots.

ENTRANCE. Entrance is MUCH quicker if one enters through the side door on South Broad Street instead of the main door on Tulane Avenue. At the main door, one will nearly always find a long line and harried guards. 

WAITING ROOMS. There is a large and a small waiting room, where jurors wait to be called. The smaller room is usually designated as a quiet room, but it wasn't quiet while I was there. The larger room was actually quieter. Upon arrival, one signs in and then finds a seat and just waits.

COUNT-DOWN. There are twelve courtrooms in criminal court. In each juror waiting room, there is a screen that initially shows the number 12. As each courtroom acquires the jurors needed for the day or reaches an out-of-court settlement, the number on the screen goes down. When the number reaches 0, the jurors still in the waiting room are dismissed for the day. When this happens, a cheer goes up from the waiting jurors! 

FOOD AND BEVERAGE. Food may be taken into the juror waiting room, but not beverages. Beverages (including water) cannot be taken into the building at all. There is a water dispenser where you can get free water. There are also machines where you can purchase bottled water, soft drinks, and junk food. I heard that there is a sort of cafeteria on the second floor but that the food choices aren't very healthy. It's probably best to take one's own food.

HOURS. This is important because it is not included in the preliminary information sent to potential jurors by mail. It is important to know that there is no clearcut end of the day during jury pool wait time, voir dire, or trial. Potential jurors and jurors can be required to remain at the courhouse until well into the evening or even into the night. It is NOT necessarily the case that one will be able to leave by 5 p.m.

VOIR DIRE. While waiting in the jury pool, one may be called for a voir dire. I was called for a voir dire on Day 1, along with 50 potential jurors, from whom 12 jurors and 2 alternates were to be chosen. (The alternates must attend the entire trial so that they can step in should any of the jurors become incapable.) During this voir dire, the judge and attorneys explained the case to us and questioned us to see who would be the best jurors for this particular trial. I felt that the explanation and questioning were done in a friendly way.

NOTE TAKING. I learned that jurors are not allowed to take notes during voir dire or during a trial. Jurors are required to rely on their memory. I find this odd.

JURY SERVICE VERIFICATION FOR EMPLOYER. If needed, a juror can receive a jury service verification slip to give to his or her employer. This must be requested and obtained at the end of each day of jury service.

STAFF. The staff in the juror waiting rooms were friendly and helpful.

This post has provided some information about jury service in Orleans Parish. My next post will reflect more deeply on jury service.

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